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Windows Phone Users Strike Back: Apps Don't Matter

In critiquing the lack of availability of apps for Windows Phone last week, dozens of readers took issue with my complaints, effectively describing them as trivial and ill-informed. The good news is there are a lot of passionate Windows Phone users out there, but, alas, not enough -- at least for now -- to make it a strong enough No. 3 player against the iPhone and Android-based devices. Though the odds for it becoming a solid three-horse race appear to be fading, I really do hope that changes.

While I noted the increased number of apps for Windows Phone, many readers came at me saying I overstated the fact that many apps are still missing. "I am not sure what all the griping is about," Sam wrote. "I personally think that this whole 'app thing' is a step backward from a decade ago when we were moving toward accessing information using just a browser. Now you buy dumb devices and apps are a must."

Charles Sullivan agreed. "I have a Windows Phone 7, which is now nearly 4 years old and I rarely think about apps," he said. "Apps, for the most part, are for people that cannot spell their own name, which is a lot of people." Regarding the lack of a Starbucks app, Sam added, "Seriously, if you need an app to buy coffee, your choice of a phone is the least of your problems." Several critics said the apps I cited were missing were indeed available. "Yeah, I took two seconds and searched on my Windows Phone and found most of the apps. Seems like zero research went into this," Darthjr said.

Actually, I did search the Windows Store for every app I listed, some on numerous occasions, a few players I even called. If I overlooked some exact apps that are actually there, I apologize. But the truth remains that there's still a vast number of apps available for the iPhone and Android that aren't available for Windows Phone. In many cases they aren't even in the pipeline. Just watch a commercial or look at an ad in print or online and you'll often be directed to download their apps on either iOS or Android.

In some instances, there are similar apps offered by different developers. "Sorry, but your examples are poor and just continue to perpetuate the notion that if you have a Windows Phone, you are helpless," reader The WinPhan lamented. "Everything you listed as your 'daily go-to's' in app usage can be found in the Windows Phone Store, maybe not by same developers/name, but with same functionality and end result, with the exception of your local newspaper and cable. Please do better research."

Acknowledging the lead iOS and Android have, Curtis8 believes the fragmentation of Android will become a bigger issue and Windows Phone will incrementally gain share. "As Windows Phone gets better, with more markets and coverage, devs will start to support it more," Curtis8 noted, adding that iPhone will likely remain a major player for some time. "But I do see Windows Phone gaining traction regardless of the numbers people try to make up. One of our biggest fights is not the consumer, it is the carriers and sales people. Walk into any store and ask about Windows Phone: selection is crap, stock is crap and the sales people will try to convince you on an iPhone or Samsung device. Many people do not feel the missing apps as much if they stay on Windows Phone and find what we have."

That's absolutely true. As a Verizon customer, I've gone into a number of company-owned stores and the story remains the same. You're lucky if you can even find Windows Phones if you're looking for them in the several Verizon Stores I've visited. Forget about it if you're not looking for one. Ask a sales rep about Windows Phone and they'll effectively say that no one's buying them. The selection of Windows Phones on AT&T is better thanks to a partnership with Nokia.

Some respondents argued that the question of apps will become a moot point as Cortana, the voice-activated feature in the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1, catches on, especially if it's also included in the anticipated new Windows 9, code-named "Threshold," as is rumored to be a possibility.

Prabhujeet Singh, who has a Nokia Lumia 1020 indicated he loves the 41 megapixel camera (indeed a key differentiator), "Cortana is amazing. I tell it to set an alarm, set a reminder and when I am driving, I just speak the address. It understands my accent and I am not a native speaker of English. Do I miss apps? Nope. Not at all."

Tomorrow could very well mark an inflection point as Apple launches its next generation of mobile phones -- the larger iPhone 6 models -- and its widely anticipated iWatch. While that's a topic for another day, a report in The Wall Street Journal Saturday said the new Apple iWatch will be enabled by a health app to be integrated in iOS 8 called HealthKit. Several key health care institutions including Sloan Memorial Cancer Center in New York, insurance giant Kaiser Permanente and the Mayo Clinic were on board in some fashion.

If Apple has -- or can gain -- the broad support of the health care industry it had of the music industry when it introduced the iPod 13 years ago despite a crowded market of MP3 music players, it could spawn a new market. To date others including Google with Google Health and Microsoft with its HealthVault community has seen only limited success. On the other hand, some argue that winning in the health care market is a much smaller fish to reel in than capturing the huge music and entertainment market over a decade ago. Nevertheless, Apple's success in the health and fitness market would be a boon to the company at the expense of others.

As long as Microsoft says it's committed to its mobile phone business, it would be foolish to write off the platform. Much of the future of its Nokia Lumia phone business could be tied to Microsoft's commitment to hardware (including its Surface business). As Mary Jo Foley noted in her Redmond magazine column this month: "Like the Lumia phones, the role of the Surface in the new Microsoft will be a supporting, not a starring one. As a result, I could see Microsoft's investment in the Surface -- from both a monetary and staffing perspective -- being downsized, accordingly."

Even if that turns out to be the case, it doesn't portend the end for Windows and Windows Phone, especially if it can get OEMs on board. For now, that's a big if, despite removing fees to OEMs building devices smaller than nine inches. Fortunately for Microsoft, as recently reported, the company's mobility strategy doesn't depend merely on Windows, but on its support for all platforms, as well. The good news is this market is still evolving. For now, though, as long as apps matter, despite some of its unique niceties, Windows Phone faces an uphill battle.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/08/2014 at 2:52 PM


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